Bent/Agbonlahor/Owen – Who should be England’s fifth choice striker?

fabio-capelloEngland’s potential squad for the World Cup is a source of great debate and will remain so until the Italian announces his squad. In terms of strikers, Rooney, Heskey and Defoe seem certain to be on the place and this leaves Peter Crouch and Carlton Cole to battle it out for the position of Heskey’s understudy (though personally I feel both should go and Heskey should stay at home). That makes four strikers, but it is possible that Capello will opt for a fifth striker and the versatility of players like Wes Brown and James Milner allows him to do so. A fifth striker is likely to be used sparingly, probably limited to substitute appearances only, the contenders are Sunderland’s Darren Bent, Aston Villa’s Gabriel Agbonlahor, and Manchester United’s Michael Owen.

Darren Bent (Sunderland)

Bent has been written off in many quarters after his ineffective performance against Brazil but this seems harsh. England lacked creativity on the day and the service provided for the striker was poor; he made intelligent runs and was never found by his team-mates. His club form has been outstanding and the fact that he has scored against all of the Big Four suggest that he can trouble even the best of defenders. He provides a genuine goal threat but does have a habit of snatching at chances. If Bent can maintain his goalscoring form over the course of the season it will be very difficult for Capello to leave him out.

Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa)

The speedy front man endured a difficult end to the season last time round, but he has improved on his form and impressed Capello enough to earn a start against Belarus last month. His raw pace would make him an effective impact substitute in the latter stages of games; Capello will also have noted the player’s versatility, he can play on either flank as well as up front. If Agbonlahor can build on his six league goals, he will give Capello a real problem.

Michael Owen (Manchester United)

Owen is Engand’s seventh most-capped player and has a record of 40 goals in 89 appearances. Despite these impressive statistics, the 29 year-old has only been capped once by Capello though numerous pundits and journalists have called for his reinstatement. He has been used sparingly by Sir Alex Ferguson at United and only has two league goals this season. Capello has said that Owen still has a chance of being selected, but the fact that he is not a regular starter at United will work against him. The argument that his supporters often put forward is that he remains the best English finisher, but Capello is clearly not as certain. Owen is no longer the player he was at Liverpool and Real Madrid; a string of injuries have shorn him of his pace but more worryingly he is not as sharp in front of goal. There is no longer a feeling of inevitability when he finds himself in a one-on-one situation. But for a drastic improvement on the pitch and an injury crisis elsewhere, Owen is unlikely to make the squad.

If Capello elects to take a fifth striker, it is likely to be a choice between Bent and Agbonlahor; barring an unlikely change of heart, Owen’s England career appears to be over.